4 Reasons Why Your CEO Should Be On Twitter

By Michele Weisman

Note: This post was originally published in 2013. Almost exactly three years later, the four main points still ring true. Yes, Twitter has grown tremendously as a platform, but the principles and strategies that guide it remain the same. In honor of the network's 10th birthday, let's remind ourselves why Twitter is an important social media tool for everyone — from Executive Assistants to CEOs.

On Friday, April 26, 2013, the President and CEO of McDonald's, Don Thompson, offered a sneak peek into the future of the fast-food chain in an interview on CNBC's "Squawk on the Street."  As I watched, I browsed my Twitter stream and came across the following tweet from Mary Wellons, Director of Social Media at CNBC:

McDonald's wants to target millenials. CEO says they're putting more money into digital, social, mobile, greater presence at concerts. $MCD

— Mary Catherine(@mcwellons) April 26, 2013

I loved Thompson's support of social media, especially from a C-level executive, and immediately wanted to personally reach out to him. The problem was, I soon realized, Thompson wasn't on Twitter (or even LinkedIn). How can you target millennials via social media when you don't even actively use these tools yourself? So I decided to start the following conversation with Mary and McDonald's Corporation:

@mcwellons nice but why isn't Donald Thompson on Twitter #justsaying

— Michele Weisman (@ottogrl) April 26, 2013

@ottogrl let's ask @mcdonaldscorp. does don thompson have any plans to join @twitter?

— Mary Catherine(@mcwellons) April 26, 2013

@mcwellons @ottogrl No plans at the moment, though we'd love for him to do a blog about visiting our restaurants around the world

— McDonald's Corp. (@McDonaldsCorp) April 26, 2013

A blog is a great start, but there are greater possibilities with Twitter.  This trip was the perfect opportunity for Thompson to launch his personal social media channels and connect with the millenials McDonald's wants to reach. For instance, Thompson could have uploaded pictures in real time via Twitter or posted a 6 second Vine of his travels.

@mcdonaldscorp @mcwellons why not? It's a huge advantage when the leader or CEO of a company is active on Twitter read.bi/Y9htbA

— Michele Weisman (@ottogrl) April 26, 2013

@ottogrl His focus is on restaurant operations & the business right now. Not saying never, just not near-term. Thanks for question.

— McDonald's Corp. (@McDonaldsCorp) April 26, 2013

News flash: Social media tears down the barriers between brands and consumers. Organizations that make social media engagement a priority at all levels of the organization are seen as more trustworthy by their consumers.  C-level executives who are active on social media channels  are becoming a more essential part of  brands' business strategy. Fear, lack of social media training, and being too busy are no longer valid excuses for leaders to not be on social media.

In fact, according to a recent study by BrandFog, 82% of respondents were more likely to trust a company whose CEO uses social media. A CEO is the face of an organization, and using social media is a simple and instant way to communicate trust to employees and consumers. Surprisingly, another study published in February revealed that Twitter was notably the only channel that saw a decrease in CEO participation. Only two percent of CEOs from the top 50 companies listed in Fortune Magazine’s 2012 Global 500 rankings have a visible presence on Twitter, compared with eight percent in 2010.

Here are 4 case studies to explain the benefits of your CEO being on Twitter.

1. Save lives. Arijit Guha, a college student battling advanced colon cancer, was left with extremely high medical bills and  facing potential medical bankruptcy. With multiple surgeries and chemotherapy sessions, Guha used Twitter to voice his frustration against his insurance company, Aetna.  The insurance company's CEO, Mark Bertolini, was listening and responded to Guha to address the issue. The result? Aetna agreed to pay Guha’s medical costs. CEOs have the opportunity to humanize the brand, get access to new ideas and perspectives, listen to the brand’s market and customers, and ultimately do social good.

2. Gain feedback. Engaging often on Twitter requires dedication, consistency, time, and patience.  It's not enough to tweet a few times every few months. CEOs, if you are posting the bare minimum on Twitter, it's like showing up to a cocktail party, saying hello, and then turning around immediately to leave. Dan Kim, founder of Red Mango, sends out surveys through his Twitter to improve products and ask for customer feedback. He is constantly updating flavors and nutrition 140 characters at a time. Dan often shares behind the scene content with fans through photos and videos.

3. Set the record straight. Addressing negative issues quickly can improve your brand’s credibility. The apology resonates even more when the truth comes out of the leader's mouth. A rule of thumb for social media is to respond to all comments in a timely fashion. Fans and followers will recognize a leader's transparency and will know that their opinions are valued. This is an easy way to humanize your organization as well as your personal brand. Patrick Doyle, former President of Domino's, apologized via YouTube after two Domino's employees  posted a video that wasn’t anything you would want on your pizza.  Fourteen seconds into the video, Doyle immediately apologized. It is important to prepare and involve your leader in your social media crisis plan.

4. Be authentic. An authentic business leader's actions reinforce his or her organization's values. Authenticity is personal and unique. Are you who your customers think you are? Connect with your fans through Twitter and be accessible. Tweet your day-to-day activities through pictures or Vines, surprise and delight, and share personal stories with your followers. Kat Cole, President of Cinnabon, thanks her customers, urges them to petition for a Cinnabon location in their local town, and engages with them in witty banter. Kat goes the extra mile to converse with Cinnabon's loyal customers.  She shows that everyone, including an exec, truly cares about customer satisfaction.

The power of Twitter is fleeting; users can instantly send concise messages to over 200 million people with a simple click. Having the “top dogs” of your organization engaged in social media can be a huge asset to your company. More often that not, C-level executives set the tone for the company's communication and culture. In order to instill a consistent social media strategy across the organization, C-level executives should lead by example and consistently participate in the conversations around their brand.

Do you think it's important for your CEO to be active on Twitter? Share your CEO's Twitter handle in the comments below!